Five For Friday: Musical knockoffs worth your time

(Continuing a thread from two weeks ago, this week’s Five For Friday highlights musical descendants we adore as much as or even more than their antecedents.  Confused yet?  Read on.)

Nathan: Coldplay

Choice track: Um….no. I can’t defend Coldplay with a song. (Ed. note: Please.)

It’s hard to defend Coldplay, because they are sort of a bland version of U2 at times, but whatever. I generally enjoy their music enough to pick an album up if I find it in the bargain bin. This isn’t a very authoritative entry. Oh well.

Travis: Radiohead

Choice track: “Pyramid Song”

It’s hard to believe now, but Radiohead were initially written off not only as a one-hit wonder, because of “Creep,” but as an unoriginal bunch of hacks, alternately stealing from REM (their guitar jangle and oblique song structures), U2 (REVERB!) and My Bloody Valentine (REVERB AND DISTORTION!). I think it’s fair to say they have transcended their influences at this point.

Tyler: Counting Crows, Hard Candy

Choice track: “Up All Night -or- Frankie Miller Goes To Hollywood”

Adam Duritz and his dreadlocks somehow snaked their way into the beds of many, many beautiful Hollywood ladies, and the only time this has ever made even a bit of sense is when listening to Hard Candy, the one time Counting Crows gathered their shit enough to make a lasting, irresistible pop-rock record.  Their hangdog love of Van Morrison and The Byrds is on full display, but the production (courtesy of Steve Lillywhite) saves the songs, each of them packed with nifty harmony, raw licks and tasty surprises.  It’s a great, great, great album.  No, that doesn’t make any sense.

Nathan: The Apples in Stereo / Dr. Dog

Choice Track: “The Girl” (Dr. Dog)

There are dozens of bands out there who ape the Beatles in one way or another, but few do it better than these two. And at least they don’t try to act they’re breaking new ground. They know who they are and they’re comfortable with it.

Travis: The (International) Noise Conspiracy

Choice track: “Capitalism Stole My Virginity”

T(I)NC is a ripoff band in a number of ways. As a late-1990s, early-2000s group playing Farfisa-laden garage rock and R&B, they are revivalists. As a bunch of hardcore vets (Refused, Doughnuts) playing more accessible music, they might be sellouts. And as a political band with a goofy, Dadaist manifesto and matching outfits, they took a whole bunch from Ian Svevonius, the frontman of Washington, DC’s Nation of Ulysses and the Make-Up. All that being said, they are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen and make some seriously catchy music.

Tyler: Amy Winehouse

Choice track: “Me And Mr. Jones”

Amy Winehouse and her Svengali, Mark Ronson, bare no shame in plundering and brandishing the record-store American soul that so many Brits love so dearly.  The music works because Ronson is a tremendous talent and Winehouse is in possession of artistic gifts that merit a listener crossing themself throughout a spin of Back To Black.

Nathan: Nirvana

Choice Track: “Aneurysm”

For all the groundbreaking they did in terms of opening the doors for a lot of rock groups in the early 90s, Nirvana weren’t original so much as disgustingly talented. They benefited from the fact that there was no one like them on mainstream radio at all. That doesn’t mean there was no one like them outside of mainstream radio. Also, Cobain had an incredible public persona, whether he wanted it or not. Nirvana is basically The Pixies with more crunch and a few other influences thrown in for good measure.

Travis: Rancid

Choice track: “Nihilism”

To many people, the Clash’s self-determined slogan “The Only Band that Matters” speaks for itself. The members of Rancid would likely agree. Rancid, the brainchild of Tim Armstrong, whose place in punk history would already have been solidified for his work in Operation Ivy as a teenager, is potentially the most Clash-influenced band in the history of ever, down to the ill-advised ska and reggae diversions. Except Rancid are better at ska and reggae than the Clash ever were, never made a song called “Overpowered by Funk,” were actually poor kids, and have a far less annoying persona. The Clash were definitely “better.” Give me Rancid any day—I’d rather journey to the end of the East Bay than be so bored with the USA.

Tyler: Sheryl Crow

Choice track: “If It Makes You Happy”

Sheryl Crow’s best records (her second and third) as well as her lunatic debut album were cleverer in hiding their roots than her recent work (a Fleetwood Mac record!  A throwback to that debut!  A Memphis-soul-Stax album!), but the music is so good because it’s steeped in such solid, indisputable material.  Crow’s self-titled album sounds at times like Keith Richards playing behind a healthier Janis Joplin, save for the detours into Dylanriffic protest folk and Suzanne Vega lonely-lady balladry.  God, when she was good, she was good.  Now we got this garbage.

Nathan: Matthew Sweet

Choice Track: “Come To Love”

Matthew Sweet owes his entire career to Big Star, Neil Young, and the Zombies. He’s a power-pop guy through and through, and he’s never done a single thing to push power-pop in a new direction. Too bad he’s one of the best power pop musicians ever. I’d take him over Big Star and The Zombies any day; Neil Young, on the other hand, is not so easily vanquished.

Travis: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Choice track: “Into The Great Wide Open”

Tom Petty is a musical artist that few people dislike. His music has a broad appeal—he has always written very catchy songs, and his Heartbreakers, guitarist Mike Campbell at their head, are basically the most talented bar band ever. Petty and the Heartbreakers are direct descendents of the jangle-pop of the Byrds, and the Byrds would never have had the success they did without Bob Dylan. I unabashedly prefer Petty to the Byrds and Dylan. If that means I have to turn in my rock snob card, I have a stamped envelope at the ready.

Tyler: Oasis

Choice track:  “Soldier On”

It’s true that Oasis styled themselves with John Lennon, John Lennon and John Lennon on the brain, but what made their music great was not the band’s obsession with Revolver.  One can play catch-the-influence from the first song on their first album to the last on their last.  T.Rex, The Kinks, Zeppelin, Faces, the Stones, the Stone Roses; there’s even a dash of Morrissey in Liam’s sublime voice.

Nathan: Camera Obscura

Choice track: “Suspended From Class”

Aside from their formal connections to Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura’s first album sounded like a Belle and Sebastian outtake session with new lead singers. That’s not to say that it was a bad album, but it definitely provided a sigma that they’ve had to live down ever since, despite the fact that they’ve progressed way beyond B&S territory on their last two albums.

Travis: Guns n’ Roses

Choice track: “It’s So Easy (live)”

Say what you will about GNR, Appetite for Destruction is probably the best mainstream album of the 1980s (yeah, over Thriller or Purple Rain, deal with it). They synthesized the sleazy desperation of Sunset Strip rock and roll into something a pop audience would gladly consume—rockers, power ballads, and all—and their sound is pretty much a mix of Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and the New York Dolls. At least on Appetite, they were better than any of those bands ever were.

Tyler: Ryan Adams

Choice track: “The Rescue Blues”

Over the course of his solo career, Ryan Adams has recorded albums in the style of: singer-songwriter folk-rock; ’70s-radio classic rock; shoe-gaze Britpop; butt-stupid ’80s-rock; the Grateful Dead; classic Nashville; singer-songwriter art-rock; slick studio band rock; slick studio butt-stupid band ’80s-rock (?).

So, sure, he’s a synthesist.  But really–who gives a shit.

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8 thoughts on “Five For Friday: Musical knockoffs worth your time

  1. I can’t believe I just read Travis stating that G&R (on “Appetite”) were better than Led Zeppelin ever were. Well, somebody has to think it, I guess.

  2. I sense our colleague is really trying to wind us up with this one. For the moment, I’m withholding my response to that silliness about Rancid and The Clash. I’m pretty sure The Joshua Tree deserves consideration for best mainstream album of the ’80s, as well.

  3. I support Trav’s 5 for 5….only one I disagree with, is I guess I am the one person who doesn’t really like Tom Petty..would definitely rather listen to Dylan. Rest of the choices are spot on

  4. Yeah, I don’t particularly like Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith any more than many other bands whose introductions I had from classic rock radio. And Nirvana wouldn’t have been able to blow hair metal away completely if GNR hadn’t loaded the gun for them.

    And as far as my Clash “silliness,” the Clash are obviously a better band. No one, especially the members of Rancid themselves, would disagree. But I never heard the Clash when I feel like it would have had any impact on me. Rancid’s one of those bands you see when you’re 15 and love long after you should have grown out of it. But for a handful of songs, though, listening to the Clash feels like class to me, what I “should” be listening to rather than what I want to listen to. The Clash are also sort of the punk band that people who don’t like any other punk bands like. For a good part of my life, punk is pretty much what I listened to, for better or worse. I could probably name 20 or 30 punk bands I’d rather listen to than the Clash, for one reason or another. And someone who’s 15 now could tell me Rancid is punk for old people while listening to a band that sounds like a poor version of them.

  5. I suppose my opinion of The Clash might be informed by my selective use of their discography. Here, a Simmons-like breakdown of the percentage of time I spend listening to Clash albums when I’m listening to the Clash: Clash, 10%; Rope, 1%; Calling, 87%; etc.

    I tried Sandinista! a couple times but that was about it. Combat Rock I’ve never made it all the way through; Cut The Crap is hysterical.

    So, when I talk about the Clash, I’m talking about London Calling, really. I never went through a punk phase, so I don’t really care about their appeal in that vein; that whole ’70s scene is a mess with everybody claiming they were more original and innovative than everybody else. The one thing I was referring to with “silliness” was the phrase “were actually poor kids.” Who cares?

  6. And yeah, I’ve used Ryan Adams’s shitty background as an argument for his “authenticity” in the past, which is laughable and embarrassing to me. At this point I consider such things irrelevant. If you have the talent, that’s all I need.

  7. Found this, while working on a piece. Seems appropriate.

    PLAYBOY: What do you say to those who insist that all rock since the Beatles has been the Beatles redone?

    LENNON: All music is rehash. There are only a few notes. Just variations on a theme. Try to tell the kids in the Seventies who were screaming to the Bee Gees that their music was just the Beatles redone. There is nothing wrong with the Bee Gees. They do a damn good job. There was nothing else going on then.

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